Amuro - Princess of J-POP
Prepared by W. Dire Wolff
Updated Feb 2001
back at Japanese Pop Music (J-POP) in the 1990's, it is impossible
to overlook the influence of Namie Amuro. J-POP is the popular
hit music that plays on Japan's top 40 radio stations and
dominates the top ten of the Japanese charts. Similar to trends
in America and England, pop music in Japan dominates the commercial
music channels, yet fails to hold the interest of more serious
or underground music listeners. Serious music lovers often
find, the showmanship and hype of the pop music artists is
not backed up by musical depth or artistic sincerity. Namie
Amuro, in the first seven years of her career, demonstrated
exceptional talent as a singer, dancer, and stage performer.
In the year 2000, this young singer is now only 23 years old,
and still has a long career waiting for her to further develop
the face of Japanese popular music.
Amuro is not only an accomplished singer, she has mastered
the art of stage performance. Her years of training in dance
is evident in her live performances and videos. Most important,
she captures the hearts of her audience by the graceful animation
of her stage personality. On stage, Namie understands how
to use the unique qualities of the acoustical sound of each
performance hall to maximize the presentation of her vocal
arrangements. Through the choreographic routines of her dance,
she creates a complete artistic presentation of her musical
material. Her successful musical recording career has been
accented by her continued public presence and touring. By
virtue of her talents, Namie Amuro has been the most notable
Japanese singer to emerge from J-POP music culture.
stage and in her public interviews, she displays an almost
awkward, shy, and somewhat self conscious personality. While
watching her sing, the audience can see her searching for
the right tonal qualities, as she strives to get the feel
of the audience and the acoustics of the room. Yet this is
backed up by the presence of a thoughtful artist that understands
the need to strive for perfection in each performance. While
the audience is taken in by her shy personality, she overwhelms
them with her mastery of the art of her singing and the execution
of her dance routines. It's a winning formula that seems natural
to Amuro. Namie Amuro has won the hearts of many of the fans
that have come to know her music.
Amuro was born on September 20, 1977, on the island of Okinawa,
in Naha City, Japan. While in the sixth grade, Amuro visited
an actor's training school, "Okinawa Actors' School".
Namie had taken an interest in the showbiz industry after
watching a young star, Hayasaka Yoshie, perform. Hayasaka
Yoshie was the first popular female talent to emerge from
the Okinawa Actors' School. Although Amuro was with other
members of her school, it was Namie that stood out from the
other classmates, and she was encouraged to begin training
as a singer and dancer. From that time at the age of 12 years
old, Namie began to take her training as a singer and dancer
in earnest. Whenever school performances or amateur shows
allowed, Namie Amuro took the stage and began to make it her
the time Namie was 15 years old, she had become fast friends
with four of her classmates that were also interested in singing
and dance. Together with her classmates Ameku Minako (Mina),
Takushi Nanako (Nana), Aragaki Hisako and Makino Anna, Namie
formed a musical group they called the "Super Monkeys".
The teenage girls were signed that year by the Toshiba EMI
recording label and they released their first single "Mr.
USA". A year later, at only 16 years old, along with
the other members of the Super Monkeys, Namie moved from her
home in Okinawa to the busy city of Tokyo. The Super Monkeys
was a pop band that revolved around their dance routines.
Due to their young age, they were not taken very seriously
in those early years. Yet, the band found success in performing
and recording within the fast paced musical industry culture
the "Super Monkeys" began to make a bigger name
for themselves in Tokyo, it became more apparent that Namie's
talent and stage presence was a marketable commodity. Ameku
Minako left the group to pursue a position as a dance instructor,
and the remaining girls changed their name to "Super
Monkey's 4". They then released their next single, "Dancing
Junk" and shortly thereafter Aragaki Hisako left the
band. To fill the vacant positions they were joined by two
new members, Ritsuko Matsuda (Lina) and Reina Miyauchi (Reina).
At the urging of their agents, Namie took a higher profile
in the musical group and in 1994 the band was renamed, "Namie
Amuro with the Super Monkeys". The band's name change
was noted on the release of their fourth single titled "Paradise
The stage was now set for Namie to receive greater notice,
and when the Super Monkeys released their fifth single, "Try
Me", at the beginning of 1995, everything began to happen.
"Try Me" climbed in the J-POP charts and set new
sales standards with gross sales reaching over 750,000 copies.
"Try Me" sales was more than all of their previous
singles combined. The Super Monkeys were receiving good reviews
in the J-POP press and they began reaching a wider audience.
Their coming into public interest was in part because they
were finally reaching an age where more people could take
them seriously. As the girls matured, they slowly moved away
from their snappy pop roots and took a greater influence from
the increasing popularity of modern techno music. Later in
the spring of 1995, at the age of 18 years old, Namie Amuro
recorded her last single with her friends, the Super Monkeys.
By now the group was simply known as "Namie Amuro"
for their final single release of "Taiyo no Season"
and "Stop the music" by Toshiba EMI.
Namie left the Super Monkeys, the remaining members of the
group launched a successful career without Amuro under the
name of "MAX". The band was named after their new
producer Matsura "Max" Masato. Masato took the remaining
Super Monkeys to a new recording label of "Avex Trax"
and produced a new CD under the band's new name. In the meantime,
Matsura "Max" Masato, produced Namie Amuro's first
solo album length CD, "Dance Tracks Vol 1", with
the group MAX appearing as footnotes in the liner notes. The
album featured remixes of the Super Monkeys trademark hits.
"Dance Tracks Vol 1" launched Namie's solo career
by selling over two million copies. Dance Tracks laid a hyper
techno beat under a cascade of swirling midi effects, while
Namie, singing in her native Japanese, laid the vocal tracks
on top of Max's mix. The CD also experimented with more soulful
and Latin influences in the production of some of the album's
material. This was the end of Amuro's career with the Toshiba
EMI recording label.
her career with Toshiba EMI, Namie was befriended by the accomplished
Japanese producer Tetsuya Komuro (TK). Komuro influenced Amuro
to begin a solo career with the same recording label that
"MAX" had signed with, "Avex Trax". TK
had already made a name for himself as a successful producer.
He had created a family of artists under his direction that
now includes other J-POP musical acts such as Kahara Tomomi,
Hitomi, Suzuki Ami, Ring, DOS, as well as his own band, "Globe".
Komuro brought a new level of professionalism to the 19 year
old Amuro's musical presentation. Together they started working
in the studio to release four separate singles. In October
1995 Namie released "Body Feels Exit" selling over
135 million copies. The success of this single was followed
in December 1995, with the release of a song created for a
popular television series, "The Chef", titled "Chase
The Chance". Then in March 1996 she released "Don't
Wanna Cry". Later in June, Namie released "Your
Are My Sunshine". Each of these four singles sold over
one million copies. In this way, the experienced producer
set the ground work for a smashing success of the first Namie
Amuro album that would be released without the influence of
the Super Monkeys. TK had carefully created some distance
from previous associations with Amuro's early career, while
building interest in her ever expanding newer fan base.
In July 1996, Tetsuya released the first true solo Namie Amuro
album, "Sweet 19 Blues". The album, which featured
vocal arrangements of club dance music and slower rock ballads,
climbed straight to the top of the Japanese J-POP charts.
Namie was coming of age and with the help of TK's production
techniques , Sweet 19 Blues, had a more mature and refined
sound. The dance album moved freely through diverse musical
styles that included hints of R&B, Techno Dance Music,
love songs, and a touch of Hip-Hop. Album sales exceeded 3.7
million copies. Namie, at only 19 years of age, was a seasoned
performer and recording artist. She had already paid her dues,
and was creating her own public personage as a pop artist.
Her own talent and charm was reinforced by her association
with Komuro. The critics were kind to her in their reviews,
and Namie took center stage in the Japanese Pop Culture. Further
promotion for the album was fueled by Vogue style fashion
photos being released to the press. In addition, TK had ensured
that a state of the art Web Site was released under the domain
of www.amuro.com. The production and promotion of "Sweet
19 Blues" was almost perfectly executed. At the end of
1996, Namie Amuro became youngest artist to win the Japan
Records Committee's Best Artist Prize Award with sales totals
for CDs climbing over a total of 10 million copies in a single
Amuro fashion had caught on with teenage Japanese girls. Like
in Madonna's early career, Namie's fans imitated her fashion
and hair style. Her trademark look started as shoulder length
bleached brown hair, mini skirts or hot pants, and tall, black,
go go boots. Girls in Tokyo's Shibuya, could be seen sporting
their Amuro "wanna be" fashion. Namie didn't cling
to her initial fashion statements, and began to redefine her
public image. To the dismay of her "wanna be" fans,
Namie cut her hair short and opted for more causal and fashionable
clothing styles in her photo shoots.
Amuro/Komuro team didn't let their success of the Sweet 19
Blues album grow cold, and immediately began releasing a string
of remixed singles from the album. Press releases and fashion
photos continued to provide fodder for the Japanese media
machine. Together they released her single "Can You Celebrate?",
in February 1997, gross sales of the single reached over 1.5
million in only five days. As interest in the young star continued
to grow, she launched a successful concert tour in the spring
of 1997. Her own tour was followed by her performance with
the "TK Pan-Pacific Tour 97". This tour featured
shared billing with the rest of the TK family of recording
artists, and together they toured several Asian countries.
During this tour, it became apparent that Namie's fame had
reached outside her native country of Japan, and beyond the
influence of Komuro's production. The tour headlined by Tetsuya
Komuro's own band, "Globe" received international
attention when gross ticket sales for a single concert in
Taipei, Taiwan hit a total of $2,770,072 US dollars. This
was even greater sales than larger name acts, such as Ireland's
U2 sold. U2 total ticket sales at the same venue was almost
$1 million less than the TK Show. The summer of 1997 demonstrated
that the 20 year old Namie Amuro was truly an internationally
acclaimed pop star.
between breaks from her grueling touring schedule and other
public performances, Namie had managed to record her second
album with TK, "Concentration 20". This new album
was released in July 1997. The album featured a much denser
mix than some of her earlier projects. It followed the same
basic R&B, Techno Dance Music, love songs, and Hip-Hop
of Sweet 19 Blues; but it also featured rock guitar work mixed
in the driving beat of the dance grooves. The album achieved
some success, but the follow through promotion of the project
was cut short soon after the album's release.
In October 1997, Amuro was married to Masaharu Maruyama (nown
as Sam), from the Japanese musical group TRF. Namie announced
her marriage on a special television broadcast on the Japanese
TV networks. Following the news of her marriage to Sam, it
was soon learned that Namie was pregnant and the happy couple
would be proud parents in the spring of 1998. With the announcements
of her personal situation, came further news that Amuro would
take a one year break from her musical career. On May 19th
of 1998, Namie gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and they
named him Haruto. The Japanese meaning of the name Haruto
is derived from two kanji characters meaning "Warm "
and "Big". The entire episode of the marriage and
then the birth of their child captivated the Japanese media.
Although Namie took a break beginning in January of 1998,
her career continued to move forward.
taking her leave, Namie took part in the "TK Presents GROOVE
MUSEUM" concerts in China, during November 1997. A special
CD Remix version of the song "Can you Celebrate?"
was released on Christmas Day 1997, in honor of the couple's
wedding and the expectation of their baby. For the second
year in a row, Namie won the Japan Records Committee's Best
Artist Prize Award for highest sales totals of any artist
in 1997. In addition "Can You Celebrate?" won the
39th Annual Japan Record Awards Grand Prize. After performing
in the 48th Kouhaku singing contest, Amuro began her one year
leave of absence starting on January 1, 1998. Following the
announcement of her one year leave, Namie released a new album
titled "181920". This was a best hits album of her
twelve most successful singles from the time when she was
18, 19, and 20 years old. Meanwhile a series of concert and
MTV videos were prepared and released for television airplay
and consumer purchase in 1998.
promised Namie Amuro returned to her music career on December
31, 1998, she once again appeared on the popular Japanese
variety show, 49th Kouhaku singing contest, with a very moving
rendition of "Can you Celebrate?" The performer
was almost unable to finish the final lines of the song, as
she fell into an emotional outburst of tears. With her voice
wavering in the final moments, Namie finished her performance
behind a heart warming veil of tears. Slowly, Namie is began
to return to her career in Japan's music industry. In 1999,
she appeared on additional television performances and released
new musical CDs. In December 1998 Namie released a new single
"I Have Never Seen", followed by the release of
the single "Respect the Power of Love" in March
The release single "Respect the Power of Love" was
met with a serious dark cloud in Namie Amuro's life. Her mother
was murdered by her husband's brother at 10:45 am on March
17, 1999 in Okinawa, Japan. This was on the same day as the
release of the new single. The attacker, Kenji Taira, then
committed suicide by drinking poison.
mother, Emiko Taira, had been a constant source of strength
and encouragement to her over the years. The loss of her mother
almost lead to the end of Amuro's musical career. Each song
she would sing, reminds her of the loss she has suffered.
While mourning in solitude, letters from concerned fans poured
in with heart felt sympathy and encouragement. While she read
the letters, tears streaming down her face, Namie found the
courage and determination to continue onward. She decided
to put aside her own loss and strive to continue to bring
happiness to her fans, through her music. Namie reached out
to thank her fans via the Internet to post special messages
on her fan bulletin boards. She could be found checking out
her fan sites and even lurking quietly in their chat rooms
(much to the disbelief of the webmasters).
two years of adjusting her family life with her career, Namie
stepped back into the full glare of the spotlight on January
1, 2000. The release of her "Genius 2000" set the
stage for Amuro's return to performance and touring on an
international level. The new CD begins with a new message
in the song "Love 2000". The lyrics begin, "Are
you ready for System 2000? Imagine all of us living as one;
Are you ready for System 2000? In a world that's soon to come!"
first listen "Genius 2000" does not appear to be
a groundbreaking musical statement in itself. Perhaps many
of the compositions, vocal arrangements, and production effects
are extensions of her earlier works, under Komuro's production.
"Genius 2000" is a strong J-POP CD that went straight
to the top of the charts in Japan. The CD is peppered with
new hints of American Soul, R&B, and Latin music as well.
Further listening and exploration into the CD reveals greater
western influences in the production of the music. Amuro's
management recruited the help of producer "Dallas Austin";
who has worked with artists such as TLC, Madonna, BoyZ II
Men, and Michael Jackson. In addition the legendary "Sheila
E.", who has worked as a solo artist and a collaborator
with Prince, was brought onboard to help with the composition
and production of several songs on the CD. Tetsuya Komuro's
influence is evident with his usual set of production techniques
that make up his formula for solid gold J-Pop.
CD stands as a statement, that Namie Amuro is out there and
still a player. The release of the CD was followed by public
appearances, International tour dates, and more television
visibility. Meetings with members of the American musical
Trio "TLC", serve to fuel rumors of some possible
introduction of Namie Amuro into the United States. In particular,
"Leavin' for Las Vegas" has a very Western R&B
feel that hints of influence by western bands such as "TLC".
These inroads into a more western sound stand to point to
the exciting possibility that Namie's future music, may be
able to make significant changes in the course of J-POP.
talented Namie Amuro has been the most notable Japanese singer
to emerge from the J-POP music culture during the 1990's.
In the coming years, the world will see how Amuro decides
to build on the great success of her earlier career.